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Iranian oil imports not stopped: govt.

Minister’s answers in Lok Sabha at variance with stand taken at bilateral meeting

Indicating that there is still some confusion in India’s position on stopping oil imports from Iran in line with sanctions by the United States, the government said on Wednesday that it does not propose to cancel trade, including oil imports, from Iran.

Replying to a direct question on whether the government would “withdraw or discontinue” trade with Iran, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan said, “No.”

He was responding to a supplementary question from Congress Member of Parliament Anto Antony in the Lok Sabha on “whether there is any pressure on the Government from United States of America or any other country in this regard”.

Mr. Muraleedharan said, “India’s bilateral relations with Iran stand on their own and are not influenced by India’s relations with any third country.” The MEA’s answer reflects India’s traditional position but is at considerable variance from the stand taken last week at the G20, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly told U.S. President Donald Trump that New Delhi had, in fact, reduced its intake of Iranian oil, in accordance with Washington’s request to “zero out” Iranian oil imports after May 2.

“Prime Minister [Modi] pointed out that although Iran supplies 11% of our energy, India had reduced oil imports from Iran [...] despite the effect it had on the Indian economy, [and] we had been able to sustain this position,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said at a press conference after the India-U.S. bilateral summit.

Considerable reduction

When asked about the differing positions, a senior government official said the Ministry of Petroleum could confirm that levels of Iranian oil imports had, in fact dropped, but that the decision to reduce oil imports was based on “commercial considerations and national interest”.

They also distinguished between “stopping” oil imports, and “reducing” them considerably.

According to industry sources, Indian companies have placed no new orders for oil from Iran since May 2.

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